Explore the history of Planet Earth.

Have you ever wondered how the Earth was formed, what caused the five major mass -extinctions, how geologists and palaeontologists are unravelling the enigma of earth’s past, and what the Earth’s interior looks like?

This course answers these questions and many more by describing and discussing Earth’s structure and 4560 million years of history.

Course outline

This course will cover the following topics:

The Geologic Time Scale (GTS):

(GTS) is a hierarchical time-line spanning time from the formation of Earth until the present and is used extensively in many branches of science. GTS will be used to introduce important events in Earth’s history and the salient techniques used by geologists and palaeontologists.

Hadean Eon:

This spans time from the formation of Earth 4560 million years ago (Ma) to about 3800 Ma. There were many active volcanoes, Earth was bomba rded by meteorites, and was probably struck by a Mars-sized body that led to the formation of the Moon. Despite these events, life may well have existed.

Archean Eon (3800 Ma to 2500 Ma):

The main features of the Archean were primordial oceans that contained many species of microbial life, an atmosphere that initially lacked free oxygen, blue-green algae that produced oxygen as a by-product, and the formation of small protocontinents.

Proterozoic Eon (2500 Ma to 542 Ma):

This Eon saw the transition to an oxygenated atmosphere, several glaciations including one during which the Earth was covered by ice several kilo metres thick, and the evolution of abundant soft-bodied multicellular life. The continent drift as we know it today began and the supercontinents Rodinia and th e short-lived Pannotia formed.

Paleozoic Era (542 Ma to 251 Ma):

The era began shortly after the breakup of the supercontinent Pannotia. Most life at the start of the era was confined to algae, bacteria and sponges. About ten million years into the era the Cambrian explosion occurred. This saw the rapid introduction of many forms of life. The evolution of this new life, aided by a suitable climate and atmosphere, continued apace throughout the era and by the end there were large reptiles and the first modern plants. The era ended with the Permia n mass-extinction, possibly the most severe extinction ever.

Mesozoic E ra (251 Ma to 65 Ma);

The supercontinent Pangaea had formed near the end of the Paleozoic Era. During the Mesozoic, Pangaea split into Gondwana and Laurasia and these split into the present configuration of continents. The climate was very warm throughout the era and by the end modern life was ready to appear.

Cenozoic Era (65Ma to the present);

The Mesozoic had ended with the K/T extinction with saw the elimination of many genra of animals and plants, the most well-known genra being the non-avian dinosaurs. This extinction helped pave the way for mammals to become dominant. The continents settled into their final positions. India collided with Asia about 50 Ma and Arabia with Eurasia about 35 Ma. More recently Australia separated from Antarctic and South America joined with North America. These last two events contributed to the long-term cooling of the Cenozoic.

The interior:

Earth’s interior can be viewed as a collection of spheres arranged like an onion. These shells include the inner and outer core, the lower and upper mantle, and the crust. We will discuss important phenomena including the generation of Earth’s magnetic field, earthquakes, volcanoes, and variations in Earth’s rotation. Topic 9. The exterior: The area near Earth’s surface can be represented as five overlapping spheres: the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and cryosphere.

Learning outcomes

On completion of the course learners will be able to

  • demonstrate an understanding of Earth’s past and structure
  • describe how geologists and palaeontologists go about unravelling the mystery of Earth’s past
  • demonstrate an understanding of Earth’s interior and exterior and the processes that occur there
  • critically review non-technical publicly available material, for example press releases, on Earth’s past and structure.

Who should attend?

This course is designed for those interested in learning about the physical world in which we live.